The intellectual collapse of Western arrogance

2020 was hopefully the final nail in the coffin for Western arrogance – an intellectual edifice that has plagued the West for so long. The notion that we can live and make decisions based on the a priori assertion that the West knows best needs to be dismantled. The pandemic exposed this imperative. While the UK has gone through three lockdowns, Taiwan recently had an Ultra Festival with 10,000 attendees. They barely had any Covid-19 cases. Many of us yearn for life to go back to “normal”, but this is something which we should be extremely cautious about. It is critical for our future survival to recognize the flaws in our way of thinking. We need to be reflective about the high horse we have been sitting on for far too long and what we should do to climb down.

To understand what we need to change, we must think critically. And I am not talking about questioning if the COVID-19 was created in a Chinese lab to destroy humanity, whether China’s reported case numbers are accurate, or if Big Pharma colluded to spread the virus. We need to spend time on the pressing issues we are facing because, yes, we face existential threats which need to be dealt with.

Taiwan and South Korea, alongside several Asian countries, have dealt with COVID-19 significantly better than we have. The Asian tiger economies have outperformed us in almost every metric. At the time of writing, Taiwan has had 937 cases while the UK stands at over 4 million. Some of you might argue that this is because of less government power here in the UK or because Taiwan is an isolated island. Well, the UK is also an island. Similarly, Russia is undemocratic yet sits among the highest death rates in the world. It is estimated that the cost of the lockdowns and deaths to the European economy is around 7-8% of GDP. The pandemic’s toll on South Korea, Taiwan, and New Zealand is lower than in the UK. The only non-European country on the list of nations leading in the number of deaths in proportion to population is the United States. Conclusively, we bitterly failed. 

Our inferior handling of the pandemic makes for an excellent opportunity to review our “West is best” mentality. The faith in old habits of many here in Europe creates pressing issues. I view our consumption of meat to be perfect. While tasteless flesh has strong appeal following our long tradition of eating it, it carries grave consequences for the environment and our health. Meat consumption in Europe is twice as high as the worldwide average, and to meet our emission targets, it needs to be reduced by 81%. Processed meats also join plutonium, cigarettes and radionuclides in cancer group 1. But meat has been institutionalized on the European plate. It is a vivid example of how we satisfy short-term desires at the expense of long-term life, underpinned by faith in damaging institutions. These are institutions we must critically reflect on. 

We should consult more knowledgeable countries on pandemic strategies as well as review our own habits, such as eating meat. India consumes the second least amount of beef in the world and has among the lowest cancer rates. The Western world has the exact opposite, leading in both meat consumption and cancer rates. Given our shared knowledge of meat’s damaging effects, it puzzles me that meat consumption is rising in Europe. If this is not the definition of self-destructive behavior, please enlighten me. 

It might seem as if I am going off-topic, but this proves a fundamental point. Not only is meat harming the environment (and eventually ourselves), it is also drastically increasing the chance of another pandemic occurring. While many viruses have come out of China, our cattle are not immune to these diseases. In 2020, a novel virus emerged out of a Polish chicken farm. These diseases emerging from Western factory farms are rising as rapidly as we are increasing our meat consumption, and they can make Covid look mild. Caught up in our arrogance, we continue to indulge in poultry, pork, and beef, knowing the consequences. Questioning our relationship to animals and meat consumption is highly relevant. 

There is a common theme: we think we can handle a pandemic, just as we think we can handle eating meat. We think. We base many of our habits on a priori assertion, and frankly, we do not have the time to continue doing so. This calls for fostering and encouraging broader transnational and intercultural alliances. This can occur at the micro-level with us students opening up to conversations with each other, sharing the very best of every culture. Moreover, critically confronting the institutions we inherit from earlier generations is instrumental to our very survival. We need to create an inclusive environment, both on a national and international scale. 

We are in the grips of a failing intellectual edifice, and the only way out is by thinking critically about the habits and institutions we have inherited and to open ourselves to new cultures.

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